Review: Trance, an art film about art, and pubic hair

I applaud Trance for being perhaps the only movie I’ve seen to date that uses vagina hair as macguffin (macmuffin?). I didn’t like it much, but the sound designer who created the illusion of Rosario Dawson trimming her pubic hair offscreen by using a sound effect that I can only describe as a wool farmer shearing sheep deserves at least an Oscar, if not a Nobel Prize. She then emerged onscreen looking obviously waxed, incidentally, as if whatever machine she’d been using that sounded like something you’d have to pull start was capable of removing pubic hair follicles at the roots, but I guess that’s just movie magic. Suspension of disbelief, pubes, etc.

In any case, Trance is one of those movies where you can practically feel the storyteller working SOOO HARD to make it obtuse and convoluted and increasingly revelatory, only the story never works in the first place, and you don’t know whether to feel impressed, angry, or sad about all the painstaking embellishments. It’s like this beautifully elaborate origami weave of story strands that I didn’t believe for even a single second. It aspires to be ornate and constructed in the way that Inception is, with a labyrinthine plot that’s like a series of complex keys and locks and levers and combinations that eventually lead to an Advent calendar nugget of catharsis, only in this case your calendar is filled with pigeon shit, because once you scrape away Trance‘s convoluted complex form, the story is at best implausible and at worst laughably stupid. It’s about the journey, I guess. Without presenting a single character that you might care about, it’s just one massive logic leap after another until you want to scream “Dude, where the f*ck are we going with this?!” And there’s never any good answer. But a lot of it seems to come back to pubes, which is interesting.

Most of Trance is spent staring at the screen with your head cocked like a confused doggie wondering what the hell’s going on, and I wish I could just lay out for you exactly what happens in the end, because that would illustrate perfectly why it’s not very good. The basics are this: James McAvoy works as some kind of fancy security guard for expensive paintings. He explains directly to us the extraordinary security procedures he goes through on a daily basis in order to ensure the safety of his multi-million-dollar paintings, and it’s pleasing in the way that it’s always pleasing when someone explains to you complex security procedures in a breezy manner with cool music playing in the background. Soon one his paintings, a Goya called “Witches in the Air” that’s important because Goya was the first guy to paint pubes or something (seriously, the first appearance of pubes in art is used as some symbolic lynchpin in Trance), is getting nicked (that’s a British word), and it turns out that our boy McAvoy’s in cahoots with the bad guys (an inside job!). Only he gets a bump on the head in the course of the robbery and can’t remember where he hid the painting. And now the big bad art thieves (a gang of Bad Boy Yardies straight out of a Guy Ritchie movie curiously led by the French guy from Black Swan) are none too happy with him. They torture him mercilessly, but it turns out he just. Can’t. Remember.

What’s a gang of fancy club-owning art thieves to do? They turn to hypnosis, obviously. This is worth examining, actually. The speed and enthusiasm with which these small-time crooks all turn to a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) to solve their lost-painting problem is the grand assumption on which the entire plot rests. They can’t find a painting, so like, DUH, of course they’re going to use a hypnotist and not rely on any other method of painting-finding. It’d be like if a homicide detective threw up his hands and went “Oops! Out of clues! I better just lean on this psychic for the next year and a half!”

But Trance never met a plot hole it didn’t try to fill with an even bigger plot hole. The rest of the film is a mish-mash of double-crosses, flashbacks, love triangles, and post-hypnotic suggestion, and if it seems stupid or doesn’t make sense, that’s because IT’S SET INSIDE THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE HUMAN MIND, MAAAAAN. That’s the thing about mindscapes and dream sequence plots, they only work when they’re very specific about what the dream realities represent. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of stuff happening with no consequences. Christopher Nolan was painstakingly meticulous at laying out exactly what each dream level meant and why, and how that related to the baseline reality. In Trance, the various hypnosis realities are mostly a diversionary tactic used to obscure and gild a story that doesn’t make sense, isn’t made up of any recognizable human characters, and relies heavily on well-worn movie tropes like the abusive boyfriend and the vengeful heroine. I mean seriously, we can’t come up with a better motive for a smart strong woman to carry off a complex plot than “she was getting back at her boyfriend who beat her”? This is only a pubic hair less sexist than the old helpless-damsel-in-distress-needs-a-big-ol-mans-to-save-her plot, and at least that was honest. Domestic abuse is a real thing that happens that you could explore, not some deus ex machina you dust off whenever you need a bad guy.

I love Trance‘s weird boldness and idiosyncrasies, I really do, and cinema could use more of it. But to praise it here would be like discussing the production values of a fart track, because there just isn’t anything there in the first place. A movie that aspires to be smart is a good thing, but fake-smart is worse than dumb in my book.


[thanks to GeekTyrant for that wonderful banner image]